- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Syracuse’s athletic teams were officially neutered the other day. No longer will they be called the Orangemen and Orangewomen. They’re strictly the Orange now — the plain ol’ Orange.

This, no doubt, makes the school feel a certain kinship with Harvard (Crimson) and Stanford (Cardinal), both of whom have staked out colors for themselves. (And while those academic powerhouses have churned out U.S. presidents and Nobel laureates by the boatload, let me just point out that neither has produced, as Syracuse has, a Marv Albert.)

Syracuse didn’t change “Orangemen,” by the way, for the same reason St. John’s changed “Redmen.” “Redmen” was thought by many to be derogatory toward American Indians; so, after much discussion, the university opted for the innocuous “Red Storm” instead. “Orangemen,” on the other hand, suggests nothing offensive, unless you don’t particularly care for the color orange.

I mean, what exactly is an Orangeman or Orangewoman — other than, in this instance, an athlete who wears a Syracuse uniform? There certainly aren’t any orange groves in western New York, so it can’t have anything to do with that. (Though Syracuse has played in the Orange Bowl a few times, losing once to Alabama 61-6.)

But as any college athletic director will tell you, there’s safety in colors these days. Nobody gets much worked up over a color (which doesn’t mean Syracuse won’t be hearing from the attorney’s office in Orange, N.J.). Colors impugn no race, no ethnic group, no gender, not a single solitary soul. You can even make a Purple Cow your mascot, as my alma mater did, and no one will say moo.

Of course, colors don’t exactly excite the imagination. You can turn green into a Mean Green (North Texas) or a Big Green (Dartmouth) or a Green Wave (Tulane), but you’re still talking about, well, green. Can’t get around that. Still, college sports have never been more colorful, it seems. From the John Carroll Blue Streaks to the Seattle University Redhawks, just about every hue is represented — especially if you include the Hawaii Rainbows.

In matters of logos, after all, it’s best to tread lightly — lest you get PETA swamping you with protest letters, claiming your Gamecock mascot glorifies cockfighting. It’s probably only a matter of time before the Notre Dame Fighting Irish turn pacifist … and become the Leaping Leprechauns or Gang Green. The Hofstra Flying Dutchmen, remember, were renamed the Pride (and the Sonoma State Cossacks are now the Seawolves).

It’s gotten wild out there in Logoland. Check out this from the Tennessee-Chattanooga Web site:

“Faced with politically sensitive issues and in need of a stronger core identity to help establish UTC as a growing intercollegiate athletics program, UTC asked SME Design, Inc. to create a comprehensive identity program. Through much exploration and working closely with a 17-member committee (students, alumni, donors, faculty, staff, zoologists), SME Design determined the ‘new direction’ of the athletics identity, moving away from the politically incorrect Native American Indian imagery.”

OK, I made up the bit about the zoologists, but that’s all. The school’s “Mocs” nickname, which used to be represented by a snake and later by a moccasin shoe, now refers to the state bird, the mockingbird. Truly a story for our times.

And now Syracuse has gone unisex, dropped the “men” and “women” from “Orange.” (Which makes you appreciate, all the more, the fearlessness of Old Dominion and its Lady Monarchs.) Not to worry, though. Nothing is going to happen to Otto the Orange, Syracuse’s beloved mascot. (Among the Top 10 Reasons Otto the Orange is the Best Mascot of All Time, according to his Web page: “O-T-T-O is a palindrome.”)

“The use of Orange as a single word and color is crucial,” Betsy English, the school’s director of bookstores and trademark licensing, told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “By cleaning it up and getting rid of what’s not needed, you make it stronger.”

Crucial? Crucial is Carmelo Anthony making a big basket down the stretch of the NCAA title game. Crucial is Donovan McNabb leading the football team to a major bowl — and major bowl bucks. Changing “Orangemen” and “Orangewomen” to “Orange” ain’t crucial.

That’s just a sports column for a slow news day.

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